In a location he will describe only as being “in the center of the country,” Moshe Ichiya, a graduate of the Estella school’s master class in pastry making, bakes cannabis cookies for some 350 patients who are sick or in chronic pain and, as of this week, they are kosher for Passover.
Ichiya’s company, Cannabliss, is one of several registered with the Health Ministry and the sole supplier of medicinal marijuana products to the Sharett Institute of Oncology at the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center.
“You see their flyers around the ward,” said a recent patient.
But access is not immediately granted. First a patient’s attending physician must be convinced that medicinal marijuana is warranted. Then the doctor sends a letter to the Health Ministry, which reviews the case and sends the patient a license with their name and ID number, granting them permission by law to possess an individually prescribed amount of cannabis.
In Israel there are some 9,000 licensed users of therapeutic marijuana, the highest per capita rate in the world, according to the Knesset Drug Abuse Committee.
Patients treated at Hadassah then call Ichiya.
He is somewhat hazy about the full spectrum of his personal knowledge of cannabis, noting that his early experiences came after a severe sprain of his ankle while on duty in the army in south Lebanon. Some 11 years later, when he opened Cannabliss in 2010, he was well versed. “They saw that the percentages per unit were precise and that the product was excellent,” he said of the lab at Hadassah and Professor Reuven Or, who oversees the operation from a medical perspective.
He also had a philosophy: do no harm when trying to heal. He said he has seen cancer patients with only one lung smoking joint after joint of marijuana and that after that he vowed to produce only smoke-free products. Currently he offers patients an array of creams, drops and cookies.
As a supplier to Orthodox communities in Jerusalem, the cookies and topical ointments made sense as they allowed patients to use the medical marijuana over Shabbat.
From there the next step — koshering for Passover — was a given. “I boiled the pots and everything,” he said of his pre-Passover preparations.
On offer this year are cookies made from matzoh meal and, “for the most strict,” from potato flour.
According to a patient, they are also delicious, which is no easy feat when baking with an inherently bitter plant substance.
Since the marijuana is given as a medicine, it requires no rabbinic supervision. Nonetheless, a recent visit from a delivery person — his mother — came with a wide range of explanations. “She lays all the supplies out on the table and explains everything to you,” the patient said.
She explains that the cookies are strong and unlike inhaled marijuana they only begin to alleviate pain an hour and a half to two hours after ingestion. Their effect, however, lasts for up to 10 hours. She expounds on the creams and the drops that can be placed under the tongue and the vaporizer and the sugar-free options, and the regular strength and the extra-strength doses and finally, on a recent pre-Passover visit, she confirms that “a rabbi from Mea Shearim” has given them his blessing.